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February 19, 2024

The Lettuce Habit

By Sand Pilarski

Two years ago, my aging mother spent about half an hour chewing me out about the time my friend Carol and I ate most of a head of lettuce while we were on some day trip somewhere. She was nearly as incensed 46 years after the fact as she was on the day of the crime. The head of lettuce in question had been intended to form a salad or two for our household, and we six-year-olds, hungry and thirsty in the cargo area of the station wagon, had exuberantly and irresponsibly got into the bag of groceries and eaten it. And while Ma could still remember her anger, I could drift back to the very day, and still remember how cool and crisp and juicy and satisfying the iceberg lettuce tasted.

To this day, I am an unrepentant salad cruncher, and although it has little nutritive value, I love making iceberg lettuce the anchor of my salads. My mother and I used to cut wedges of it (decades before that became fashionable) and drizzle French dressing on it for snacks. Occasionally we'd use Italian dressing in salads; and for a short time we were enamored of some avocado-colored mixture called "Green Goddess Salad Dressing," which turned out to be less appealing on a salad than it was spread across a hot dog bun and toasted in a skillet -- but that's another story.

Iceberg lettuce and thinly-sliced onions eventually became the favorite salad of our household, tossed in a home-made dressing of oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Even Dad, an eschewer of many vegetables, enjoyed the savory zing in its flavor.

There is a bottle of ranch dressing in the refrigerator these days; my beloved husband likes to have salad (now and again) with croutons and raisins and ranch. It's a disgusting habit, but in return, he turns a blind eye to my penchant for adding quartered artichoke hearts and canned tomatoes to my salads. (As long as they're not in his.)

The typical salad has the ubiquitous iceberg lettuce; to that I add either torn raw spinach (stems removed) or mixed "spring greens" (arugula, spinach, oak leaf lettuce, red lettuce, radicchio); thinly-sliced cucumber, tomatoes, quartered artichoke hearts (not the marinated ones), and sprinkle over it all grated white cheddar cheese.

Then there's the salad dressing. If you read the labels on salad dressings in the store, you find nasty ingredients. Monosodium glutamate is one that I abhor, and the other is sugar. I believe that sugar is a major bane of our society's diet, and so I avoid it whenever possible. Thus my solution for sugarless salad dressing is to make my own.

I save tall, thin jars from green olives. They make the best salad dressing mixers.


1 Teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil or olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar

Shake in the covered jar until mixed, then pour over salad. As much as needed. Store the rest in the fridge for the next time. Very good with pasta dishes and buttered sliced bread.


1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup water

Shake. Chill for about 20 minutes in the freezer, then shake again and pour over salad. Once again, only use as much as needed to lightly coat the salad.


Squirt about 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice into it.


Pour 2 tablespoons of tomato juice into it.


Add 2 tablespoons wine vinegar to it.

I've been thinking lately: what if you did the basic iceberg lettuce, the tomatoes, and then added bite-sized pieces of fried bacon, and then, dumped a dollop of mayonnaise in the oil and garlic dressing? And accented the salad with some soft sweet French bread ...


Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-03-17
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